With many gamers currently obsessing over the upcoming next-gen systems and the first games that will be available for them, I thought I'd do something completely different - and instead take a look at the very last games to be launched for classic and not-so-classic consoles.
But before I get to that, let me quickly lay out some ground rules for nitpickers. Please feel welcome to pick this apart, as I do love a good debate, and am always looking for new or more definitive information. Just be mindful that for the purposes of this feature, I'm considering the last official game to be released on each system as one that had general retail distribution in at least one, but preferably several worldwide territories. So yes, while I'm sure your friend of a friend from Worksop did indeed create a side-scrolling version of BioShock: Infinite for the Atari 2600 only a few months ago, that be some homebrew shizzle, yo. And ima overrulin' yo' ass.
With that over, let's get on with the show.
Swansong Game: Klax (1990)
While the very first generation of gamers were watching Roger Moore skiing in front of a blue-screen to a full-on disco version of the James Bond theme tune, over in the states Atari was rolling out its faux-wooden wonder that would define video gaming's second generation. And indeed, help hammer the last nail into its coffin.
While Atari's console was low tech, it had cockroach-like survival chops. It somehow avoided being nuked by the great video game crash of '83, and, nourished by some occasional dubious-quality software, eked its way though the 80s. It even stuck around long enough to witness the birth of its grand-consoles. But as the decade rolled over, the VCS ran out of puff at long last.
Its swansong game was marketed with the tagline, "It's the 90s, and there is time for Klax..." Unfortunately, that was not the case for the VCS. After spanning an incredible three decades, time was up for the legendary disco-era console.
Well, almost. Klax was the VCS' last swansong, but it had an encore of sorts in 1992, when a puzzle game called Acid Drop was independently put into limited production in Germany. It was sold at a few retailers, enabling the system to make one final, rattling death gasp before it finally croaked.
Nintendo Entertainment System
Swansong Game: Wario's Woods (1994)
Ah! The NES is one of gaming's true icons, although it's not quite the be-all and end-all of systems that most Americans would have you believe. Since Nintendo's unassuming grey box pretty much was the gaming industry in the US between 1985 and 1991, the colonial gamer's view tends to be skewed very much in its favour.
In the UK, thanks to Nintendo treating us like some kind of third-world gaming leper colony, the general view on this system is a little more down-to-earth. Sure, many give the NES the love and respect it most certainly deserves - but it never quite worked itself into the very fabric of the 80's gaming scene like the ZX Spectrum and C64 - and other period machines - did.
Regardless of all that, it was still an unbridled success, and its fruitful 11-year lifespan was filled with some legendary games. But even heroes have to die, and in 1994, the fairly decent match-three puzzler Wario Woods was the system's finale.
Swansong Game: Super Asteroids & Missile Command (1995)
In many respects the Sony PSP of its day, Atari's Lynx never quite hit critical mass due to its high price, bulky form factor and penchant for guzzling six batteries at a time as quickly as you could shovel them into its cavernous battery bay. However, despite its shortcomings, it's still considered a classic thanks to its advanced tech (for its time), decent screen (although it looks like a postage stamp these days) and excellent range of period arcade conversions (that actually still do hold up well today).
So it's fitting that it bowed out with a ROM cart featuring a couple more coin-op ports: in this case, Super Asteroids and Missile Command. That was in 1995, a mere six years after the machine's launch.
Swansong Game: Spider-Man: Web of Fire (US) (1996)
Codenamed "Project Mars," Sega's 32X was an add-on to the Mega Drive that was designed to help the fading 16-bit machine unleash blistering 32-bit power onto unsuspecting gamers. While buying Sega a bit more time to finish building its upcoming next-gen machine, the Saturn.
However, gamers were nonplussed, as indeed were games developers, publishers, critics, retailers and pretty much everyone else you could think of. Barely two years after it was launched, the ill-conceived peripheral was seen off in the US by Spider-Man: Web of Fire. A game, incidentally, that had an enormous production run of no less than 1500 (count 'em) copies. Which is the reason why it's a fairly pricey eBay rarity these days.
In Europe, 32X didn't last long enough to witness its first birthday. After the rather excellent Virtua Fighter was released, the system was written off as a dead loss - and you could pick it up for less than twenty quid from your local Woolies.
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Swansong Game: 3D Tetris (1996)
The trump card to play in any argument where someone is talking about how great and infallible Nintendo is, the Virtual Boy was a headache-inducing, red-on-red, pile of bollocks on legs. And I don't care how many misty-eyed people say otherwise. Just play it for 15 minutes, and I promise you that one or more of these very exciting things will happen: your eyes will feel like they've been rolled around in large salt crystals, your head will feel like it's got an ever-tightening iron band around it, or your neck will require some serious adjustment from a chiropractic specialist.
Released in the summer of 1995 to a universal chorus of raspberries from critics and gamers alike, the machine lasted an epic six months in Japan, and eight in the US before its plug was mercifully pulled.
The last game sucked down with the sinking ship? None other than Tetris 3D - which is about as much fun as getting maced in the kisser.
By the way, I've still got one. I trot it out whenever anyone says "it wasn't that bad, was it?" Whereupon they almost immediately understand that it was.
Swansong Game: Fight for Life (1996)
Back in the mid-90s, Atari was the sole American flag-flying company still in the console-manufacturing business. But sadly for them, not for much longer. Despite sporting 64-bit credentials, their brand spanking new Jaguar failed to woo players, in some part due to its mythically unergonomic controllers, but mostly because of its phenomenally motley software lineup.
The system lasted a scant three years before shuffling off this mortal coil, and the game that saw it off in 1996 provided a surprisingly appropriate historical footnote for a system whose entire existence had been one of eternal struggle: Fight for Life.
If you haven' seen it, my God. It's one of the worst fighting games of all time: a polygonal Virtua Fighter-type game whose hopeless gameplay was further de-hanced by a control scheme that was nigh on impossible to execute on the system's hand-cramping controllers. What were they thinking?
Sega Master System
Swansong Game: Mickey's Ultimate Challenge (1998)
Sega's second console was released around the same time as its arch-rival, the Nintendo Entertainment System - which comprehensively outsold it in Japan, and utterly crushed it in the US. However, in Europe we know better, and gamers here helped make it the success I think it always deserved to be.
Yet although the NES was by far the biggest seller of the period, the Master System ended up having the last laugh - enjoying its final software release a full four years after the NES was relegated to the back of the great closet in the sky.
Its swansong was Mickey's Ultimate Challenge, a quite excellent little game that was released in 1998, some 15 years after the Master System's debut, and only a few months before the Dreamcast hit the streets. That really is an impressive lifespan for a system that is so often written off as an 8-bit era afterthought.
Can you tell I have a bit of a soft spot for it?
Sega Mega Drive
Swansong Game: Frogger (1998)
One of my old favourites, the Mega Drive had an almost decade-long innings. But with the 90's drawing to a close, it was time for the old girl to be put out to pasture, and the game that showed it the way was a new-fangled version of the old classic, Frogger.
However, if you Google "Mega Drive Frogger," (or Bing it, if you like to swing the other way) you'll see only box images of Frogger with "Genesis" emblazoned on the front. That's because at that point, the European Mega Drive software market was well and truly dead, and the game wasn't released out here.
So what was the Mega Drive's Euro swansong? That would be FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, a game that featured a very young David Beckham on the box, Who infamously earned himself a red card against Argentina in the tournament a couple of months later and lost us the World Cup (at least, that's how the press put it).
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Swansong Game: Frogger (1998)
In a rather amusing turn of events, after going at it hammer and tongs for years, the SNES and Mega Drive both punched each other out simultaneously in 1998. Just like its nemesis, Super Nintendo's swansong also turned out to be the piss-poor, "re-imagined" Frogger.
However! Just like the "Genesis" version of the game, it was also a US-only release. In Europe, it was Lucky Luke who helped bury Nintendo's 16-bitter. Released a year earlier, it was a great looking and decent-playing platformer that helped the machine go out with a bang from a six-shooter.
Swansong Game: Deep Fear (1998)
Technically, the last Sega Saturn game was Magic Knight Rayearth, one of those anime-sourced JRPGs that features gangs of characters with big heads and huge eyes, lots of text, and a rather strange plot. It was originally released in Japan in 1995, but thanks to a very protracted localisation process, didn't see the light of day in the US until November 1998. It wasn't particularly well received by critics, and because of that, wasn't ever released in Europe.
So why isn't that the system's swansong? Well, a couple of months before Magic Knight Rayearth hit the streets, Deep Fear was released in both Europe and Japan. It was a fairly decent underwater survival horror game that, more importantly, was an all-new, original title. So rather than an English language version of a 1995 release taking the credit for being the Saturn's swansong, I think Deep fear should get the nod.
Swansong Game: Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3 (2002)
It's a double Tony Hawk swansong whammy for the N64. The fifth generation system was launched in 1996 and saw in the next century, but didn't last much longer.
In Europe, it lasted a surprisingly short five years before it looked death - and its final game - in the face. And wearing a black hoodie and wielding a scythe was Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, a game that spawned a hugely successful franchise before it succumbed to diminishing returns.
Over in the states, the N64 soldiered on for another year before it was visited by a video gaming grim reaper who looked almost exactly the same, but perhaps marginally better than its European counterpart - Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3.
Swansong Game: FIFA Football 2005 (2004)
If I were an ultra-chinny nerd with a high-pitched voice and acne, not only would I be an arcane stereotype, I'd also be saying something along the lines of "the very last game to appear on Sony's inaugural system was Dewprism in 2007." And I'd be kind of right. But the truth is, that was a limited-edition re-release of a game that appeared in 2000. So piss off, nerdy.
Instead, I'm going to point to the franchise that seems to be some kind of ghoulish carrion beast, picking over the carcasses of freshly deceased consoles. Yes. It's that bloody FIFA again - and back in 2004, its 2005 edition watched Sony's original PlayStation flatline after a decade-long run.
But there is an additional nerdy twist to this tale. Any German who might be reading this could justifiably claim that their country created a product that by rights should be The Last PlayStation Game Ever.
The game in question is the 2005 release, Schnappi: 3 Fun-Games. If that sounds vaguely familiar, this minigame collection was inspired by, and indeed features a period novelty tune called Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil. Which I refuse to link to, because I want to indemnify myself against potential lawsuits for causing permanent brain damage. All I need to say is that the game was German-only, was built with Macromedia Flash, and it's a pile of cack. Enough said. The PlayStation deserves a quality sending off, so FIFA, being a multi-territory release, makes for a much sweeter swansong than the aural monstrosity that is, for one last time, Schnappi, das kleine Krokodil.
Swansong Game: Border Down (2003)
Sega's ultimate console tottered along for five years before succumbing to the combined might of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. The game that helped it wave goodbye was Border Down, a pretty damn fine shooter.
Proving that the machine still had its fans even during its last death throes, the game sold out its 10,000 run. A further 5000 were produced in 2008 - which were also snapped up by Dreamcast owners. Apparently that still wasn't enough, because the game remains in high demand, selling for hundreds of bucks on eBay.
Swansong Game: Madden NFL 2008 (2008)
Nintendo's rather disappointing sixth generation console outsold Sega's Dreamcast, but couldn't quite beat out Microsoft's upstart Xbox, and was marmalised by the PlayStation 2.
But even though its performance was somewhat below par, it still had a decent run, lasting from 2001 until 2008, when Madden NFL 2008 finally brought down the curtain on the squarest console ever.
Don't have much else to say, because to be honest, I wasn't much of a fan of the thing. Few great games, yes, but mostly a lame duck.
Swansong Game: Madden NFL 2009 (2009)
It seems fitting that an all-American machine would be seen off by an all-American game - Madden NFL 2009.
Which isn't particularly surprising. As seems to be the case with many popular consoles, sports games just keep on selling and selling, years after most hardcore gamers have moved on to bigger and better CPUs. And so it was with the Xbox, entertaining the last vestiges of its audience with a game based on the non-soccer game Americans call Football.
Swansong Game: FIFA 14 (2013)
Look! It's FIFA - again. And yes, that number is right. The edition blowing the final whistle on one of the greatest systems of all time is FIFA 14 2013. While there is always the possibility that other games might be released on this venerable console, it's extremely doubtful at this point, some thirteen years and just about two generations after its debut in 2000.
The fact that the PlayStation 2 lasted this long is a testament to its brilliance. While we can all argue where this system might end up sitting in the context of history, I'd make the case for it deserving the top spot thanks to its astonishingly long list of absolutely top-drawer games - and the fact that with 155 million units sold, it's also the most successful console ever.